How to Determine the Best Way to Digitize Your Old 35mm Slides and Negatives

By Danielle Crandall
Digitized slides, negatives, videos, scrapbooks
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Converting your old slides and film negatives to digital form will ensure that the images are preserved for the future and allow them to be restored and shared more easily with others. However, before you can digitize your old photography, you will need to determine the best method based on how many slides and negatives you possess, how much time you have to invest in such a project, the quality of the images that you want to achieve and how much money you are able or willing to invest in the digitizing process.

Flatbed Scanner Attachment

To scan your slides and film yourself without buying a dedicated slide and film scanner, you can use an everyday flatbed scanner by purchasing an attachment that will allow light to be projected through the back of your slides and negatives so that the images can be scanned. After the images have been scanned and saved on your computer, you can then invert and adjust the colors of the photos as necessary. While using a flatbed scanner might cost less, the images that are scanned will not be as sharp as other scanning methods and the possibility of dust spots showing up on the images will be higher. However, flatbed scanners often allow you to scan multiple slides or negatives at one time, which will cut down on the amount of time that you spend scanning your images.

Film and Slide Scanner

If you have many images to digitize or plan to continue using slides or film to take pictures, purchasing a slide and film scanner might be a monetarily worthwhile investment for you. A scanner designed specifically for slides and film will allow you to scan images faster and at a higher resolution faster than a flatbed scanner. However, the better-quality images that these scanners create also tend to require a large amount of hard drive space on your computer. A number of slide and film scanners hold and process large batches of slides and negatives at once, come with image editing software and offer more control over the quality of your images, but paying for the features of these scanners costs a great deal of out-of-pocket money at one time. While renting a slide and film scanner from a photography company is an alternative to purchasing your own scanner, you will only save money if you know how to work the equipment before renting the equipment, as learning how to scan and actually doing so is often a multiple-day project.

Digital Camera

Using a high-quality digital single-lens reflex camera, you can take pictures of your slides and negatives that can later be transferred to your computer for image editing. You have the option of taking a picture of each slide projected onto a screen or attaching a slide duplicator to your camera that will hold the individual slides and negatives while you take a picture of each one in front of a light source using a macro lens. In terms of cost, a slide duplicator is much cheaper than purchasing scanning equipment, if you already have access to a high-quality camera, macro lens, tripod, slide projector and screen. While the process of taking a picture of each slide or negative is also faster than scanning, choosing the best shutter speed, distance, light, exposure level and other settings will require a fair amount of experimentation. However, taking digital pictures of your images will allow you to review your work as you go to make sure you achieve the best results. The biggest downfall when using a camera to digitize your slides and negatives is the slight lack of sharpness that will be visible in your printed images.

Professional Service

Hiring a professional photography company to digitize your slides is the easiest option, as it does not require purchasing equipment, learning to scan or photograph slides and negatives, investing a large amount of time, cleaning each slide and negative or editing the flaws in your images. Paying for each slide and negative to be scanned can add up very quickly though, as vendors typically charge for each one to be cleaned, scanned at a high resolution and edited with image software. However, along with the high cost of using a professional service, you will receive sharper and cleaner images in a shorter amount of time. You can also send batches of your slides and negatives to the photography company at different times so that you are not hit with the cost all at one time. The biggest challenge will be finding a reputable company that will handle your pictures with care so that you slides and negatives do not get damaged.

About the Author

Danielle Crandall has been a professional writer and editor for more than five years. Her work has appeared in various online publications and marketing materials for nonprofit organizations, covering topics ranging from beauty and fashion to home decor to education and society. Crandall holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Arizona.